Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

Imagine knowing you wanted to play football at the highest level someday at a young age and devoting yourself to your craft early. In high school, you play every position they’ll allow you to. You play both sides of the ball; you impact the game in any way you can.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead - Photo courtesy of Pitt
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo courtesy of Pitt

In college, you do the same. You start to find a home position, but your team needs you in more than one way. You work your butt off to make sure you’re everything your team needs you to be. You’ve become a leader in the locker room and on the stat sheet. You’ve proven yourself time and time again, and now it’s finally time to take the leap.

On draft weekend, you pace around your living room, waiting for the call. You think about all the hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears that went into this moment. And then…

They use a parrot named Zsa Zsa to announce you’ve been drafted.

Alright, so maybe achieving your dream of being draft doesn’t always come the way you though it would. That was probably the case for Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead when he heard his life-long dream be achieved through the mouth of a parrot two years ago. But nonetheless, the Bucs’ fourth-round selection in 2018 had quite the journey to get to that point. One that was certainly worth celebrating – however it happened to become official.

In high school, Whitehead was his team’s best player on offense and defense. As a senior, playing as a running back/wide receiver, Whitehead amassed over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. On defense, he recorded 97 tackles and seven interceptions. Whitehead’s dual-threat ability caught the attention of schools like West Virginia, Ohio State and Penn State, but the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania native ultimately decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh.

It’s not uncommon for the best football players at youth football levels to play multiple positions, even on different sides of the ball. Honestly, there are so many kids who are bad at the game at that age that anytime you get someone who has natural athleticism you’re likely going to make the most out of them in every way. That was the case with Whitehead throughout his youth football days.

But when you jump from high school to the college level, that whole “play eight different positions” phase usually ends. Usually coaches will recognize not only where your skills might fit you best, but also how you can impact the game and the team in the most positive way.

I say usually, but Whitehead isn’t your usual football player.

Whitehead continued to play both sides of the ball, even in college. As a true freshman in 2015, Whitehead played in all 13 of Pitt’s games. The only game he didn’t start that season was the very first one – the coaching staff likely thought “we’re not going to start this true freshman to open the season,” and then did so the rest of the year because he was that good. That season Whitehead recorded 108 tackles, one interception, six pass deflections and one fumble recovery, and was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Whitehead missed a handful of games over his sophomore and junior seasons at Pitt, but when he was on the field, his impact was as good as it had ever been. At the end of his third season, Whitehead had recorded 235 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, and also rushed for 362 career yards with an 8.4 yards-per-carry average. That was enough for him to decide to make the jump to the next level, where the Bucs – and Zsa Zsa the parrot – were eagerly waiting to select him at the right spot in the 2018 NFL Draft.

That spot was pick No. 117 in the fourth round, and at the time, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and his staff were very excited about bringing Whitehead down south.

Pitt SS Jordan Whitehead - Photo courtesy of Pitt
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo courtesy of Pitt

“Those guys from Aliquippa, it’s like those Miami guys, football means everything to them,” Licht during his post-draft press conference. “He certainly is one of those guys. He’s a gym rat. He’s a film junkie. He is tough and he plays like he loves it. He’s going to play safety; he does have some versatility though. He played inside. He played nickel. We’re going to play him at safety. He’s not the biggest guy; he doesn’t know that, though. He doesn’t play like that.”

Aliquippa is a small town of about 10,000 people right outside of Pittsburgh. Though small in number, the town has produced some of the most important people who have ever played the game of football, including Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett and Ty Law, as well as guys like Curt Singer and Darrelle Revis.

That last one means a lot to Whitehead. Revis and Whitehead share many bonds. Both came from their small town of Aliquppa, both played defensive back, and both attended the University of Pittsburgh before making their jumps to the NFL. But there’s another very important, very close thing these two share: blood.

Revis and Whitehead are cousins. Whitehead remembers as a young kid attending Revis’ draft party in 2007, where his older cousin was selected as a first round pick by the New York Jets. He said he remembers sitting on the floor wearing a Pitt jersey watching his cousin get drafted, and such a memory has not only stuck with him but motivated him throughout his journey.

We weren’t sure exactly where Whitehead would make an early impact for the Buccaneers in 2018. With Justin Evans and Chris Conte slotted to be the starting safeties, plus the experience of Isaiah Johnson ahead of him as well, it didn’t look like we would get much of Whitehead in year one.

But that’s probably what Pitt’s coaches thought going into Whitehead’s first year with the Panthers in college. And we all know that didn’t last, did it?

When Conte went down for the year in Week 3, Whitehead got his shot. The Bucs named Whitehead the starter and he went on to start 11 games during his rookie season. He finished the year with 76 tackles, four passes defended and four tackles for loss.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Going into 2019, Whitehead’s place was once again uncertain. Sure, he now had experience under his belt. But we saw guys like Bradley McDougald have similar success from the safety position and the team just move on from him a few years prior – you just never know with safeties.

Plus a new defensive coordinator coming in that wasn’t here when Whitehead was drafted? You never know. The only way to make it was to – in Bruce Arians’ words – make it so they can’t cut you.

Whitehead did that very early into training camp. Not only did it look like Whitehead packed on an extra 10 pounds in the offseason, he was making the most out of Evans’ absence, as Evans was still sidelined due to his lower body injury which lingered and seemed to worsen during the offseason.

Not only did Whitehead make it so the Bucs couldn’t cut him, he made it so the Bucs had to start him.

Through two weeks of the season, Whitehead has been everything this team could have wanted him to be when they saw his flashes of production in the preseason. On the stat sheet, he’s second on the team in total tackles two weeks in with 14. Whitehead has been flying to the ball, constantly making his presence known in the run game. It was also Whitehead who came up and stopped Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on a crucial fourth-and-1 attempt in the first half last Thursday, which was a catalyst towards Tampa’s Week 2 win.

But even more notable than the box score stats, to me, are the snap count percentages. Through two weeks, no Bucs player has played more defensive snaps than Whitehead. He played 100 percent of the team’s snaps in Week 1 and 99 percent of their snaps in Week 2. In a football age where we see defensive coordinators rotate their defensive backs in and out frequently to match up with certain players or personnel or pass/run looks, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles trusts Whitehead to be on the field for it all.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Getty Images

Whitehead may not be as versatile position wise as he was during his high school and college days. But two weeks in to his 2019 season with the Buccaneers and his versatility is showing up in other ways. His pro versatility looks different than his college versatility did, but make no mistake, it’s that same sense of natural athleticism and “football means everything to them” that makes it so hard to take him off the field – even if it is just one side of the ball now.

From Pittsburgh to a parrot to now the playmaker of the defense, Whitehead’s presence and versatility in Tampa Bay is a big reason why the Bucs are a Top 10 defense two weeks into the 2019 season.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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Alldaway 2.0
8 months ago

Whitehead and Edwards form a great young safety duo for years to come. I haven’t changed my opinion of this team since the pre season. The offense is loaded with skill players, but are limited due to the tackle play. Not surprising Arians calls this offense a run first offense so I expect a lot of big passing plays to come from play action and a heavy use of the screen game to continue. Defensively, they are exceeding my expectations and I think that they can show more growth as you have rookies playing all over this defense along with… Read more »

ScottC543
8 months ago

The biggest addition to the Bucs this year, by far: Todd Bowles

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seat26
8 months ago

Glad to see last year’s DB’s looking like the real deal this year. Maybe that is the key. You don’t really know what you have in most cases until they have played more than one year. Hopefully, that will be true with this year’s crop of DBs that seem to be having no impact at all.

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Benjamin
8 months ago

This defense is playing so well and it’s only been two weeks. It is as night and day as it possible could be when comparing last seasons defense to this season. The true test for the defense comes when we play the L.A. Rams in two weeks. That is going to show us what this defense can possibly be this season. I like our chances of having a good day and getting a win Vs. the Rams this year. If the offense can play like they should the Rams game will not be as scary as it sounds today. Rate… Read more »

martinii
8 months ago

Just a few observations. Don’t take any team for granite. I too thought that SF would be a W and Panthers would be an early challenge. Would not look past NYG’s. Whitehead is potentially real deal, OJ Howard is still a mystery, and RB is “feed the hot hand.” I like the play of Minter, and Vea + Suh is as advertised. Finally I agree Bowles was best 2019 Acquisition. Go Buc’s

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76Buc
8 months ago
Reply to  martinii

No team is made of granite except Vince Lombardi’s line that he played on at Fordham know as the “Seven Blocks of Granite”.

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nitey
8 months ago

Have to agree with Scott, Todd Bowles is by far the best addition to the team. I’m sure he needs his defensive coaching staff doing their work as well, but his defense is playing very well. I’ve been excited about this defense since the preseason when even our 3rd and 4th string players were playing well. I am really excited about our defensive backfield this year and I think the defense is going to catch a lot of the so called ‘analysts’ that predicted that the Bucs have a defensive problem by surprise. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No… Read more »

Buc76
8 months ago

Have to beat the Giants to have any credibility. Home game against a struggling team. Have to win it!

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tiapanda
8 months ago

This defense is flying to the ball. The key to this season is Vea’s health. The defense is controlling the line of scrimmage like I haven’t seen in years. Just give us 16 games, Vita, and we could become a top 10 defense with all the young talent improving as the season goes on.

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macabee
8 months ago

Daniel Jones has been named starting QB for the Giants on Sunday. Jordan Whitehead had an INT against him in a 2017 Pitt win against Duke. Go Bucs!

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Bucsfan1983
8 months ago
Reply to  macabee

I want to see pressure in this kid’s face all afternoon, I expect a ton of blitzing from Bowles.

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Bucsfan1983
8 months ago

The defense looks way better, we haven’t’ had a real DC since Kiffin. Now if we can cut down on penalties and the OL step it up, we can make it to the playoffs like I had thought before the season.

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bucballer
8 months ago

Yes! We have to beat NY! There is a big psychological difference between 2-1 and 1-2! Bucs just need to keep pounding the rock. If Oline can hold up help open those running lanes then the play action will be there for Jameis. Jameis needs to continue to develop in terms of taking what the D gives you. Jameis doesn’t have to try to win the game on every play. Not there then tuck and run of throw it away and live to fight another play. I think the play of O.J. will improve. Kid is a beast and certainly… Read more »

chefboho
8 months ago

I love the heart and aggressive nature of this kid. Between him and Edwards we could be solid for years to come. Just saw the news that the giants will be starting the rookie jones at quarterback. If I’m bowels I’m bringing the heat every play. The giants have no wr’s worth a damn. Let’s show this rookie what this new look bucs are all about

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MizzouBucs24
8 months ago

Licht has had his troubles in free agency and the draft, mostly in the second round. But not the fourth, he has drafted starters. Whitehead is a good football player and the kind of player it will take to turn this team around. Licht isn’t the best GM in the league but he is far from the worst. This coaching staff is making him look a lot better. They are showing he has drafted talent and the players just needed some better coaching. Whitehead, Hargreaves, Cappa, and Rojo are some good examples. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes… Read more »

Buc76
8 months ago

That’s slap in the face that they are putting this rookie out against us for his 1st start. We need to demolish them Sunday!

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76Buc
8 months ago
Reply to  Buc76

The G-men know our record against rookie QB’s. Smart move.

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Charlie
8 months ago

I guess I’m a knit picker here but I would say one player on our improved defense show up a little bit more is Suh. No doubt he’s paired with Vea and made this front much improved. But as Sapp said on the podcast a while ago, show me something special, we would love some more splash plays from him. With a healthy JPP that resembles anything from last season, the true potential of this defense is unlocked, which is a ferocious deep playoff run type defense. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

Itch
8 months ago

Alldaway 2.0 said it well.

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buddah
8 months ago

Too early to say better overall, but trending upward. The coaching has shown it is light years ahead of last year. We don’t play another home game in Tampa until November, which is so unfair and insane, so we need this one psychologically. That would put us in position for a strong finish provided we can find a way to win at least two of the following five games.

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Spitfire
8 months ago

I knew the Defense had potential with Hardworking Vets and Young Players/Rookies with less bad habits and ready to mold, with speed everywhere, but the grit and the ability to bend without breaking is something nobody could have seen to this extent so early. This Defense has played hard and played smart and other than the 1 or 2 big plays here and there they have played very tough. They remind me a lot of our Kiffen Defense in the way that it seems like they are all swarming to the ball which is great. Bowles is bringing his A… Read more »

EastEndBoy
8 months ago

Pleasant Surprises: 1) Shaq Barrett – I considered his sack against the 9ers to be a blown play by their TE, but his 3 against the Panthers were quality. 2) Kevin Minter – a big disappointment that this spot is not taken by a guy named White, but Minter played a lot better than i thought he would against Carolina. 3) Barber – running like he wants to be a #1RB this year. 4) RoJo – running like he wants to be a #1RB this year. 5) Whitehead – for all the reasons you wrote about. On Brees: definitely opens… Read more »

EricNV
8 months ago
Reply to  EastEndBoy

I believe #45 was injured in the first qtr in Carolina. Happens to the best of them as well as rookies.

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avez8811
8 months ago

biggest suprise is this entire defense coming from what they were last year just shows how bad the coaching was before A.B. and crew got here
i think this team is much more dangerous than ppl and the media our giving them credit for and no one believed in them they were 31 on the power ranking last week only beating the dolphins
this team will def. suprise ppl but i worry about this schedule its not easy and it could go south if there not prepaired

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SenileSenior
8 months ago

Charlie,

Don’t be disappointed with Suh. He did the same with LAR last season. He just does his job. He is what I call a “hired gun”. If we somehow get to the playoffs he will come alive. Better yet if we can get him to come back next year some of the new culture and enthusiasm is bound to rub off on him.

Meanwhile, look to the young and hungry manbeast, Vea. He is beginning to shine a little already.
______________
Go Bucs!!!

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scubog
8 months ago

I had a chance to meet Jordan’s parents last season. What nice people. Being from the Pittsburgh area myself I have enjoyed seeing the youngster excel. Maybe there will be some #31 jerseys available soon.

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fredster
8 months ago

The defense has exceeded my expectations and offense been little slower starting than I expected. I’m surprised they have been able to run ball fairly well. Not surprised RoJo looks good. Never thought he was a bust. Surprised so many PBU from secondary and they challenge all catches. In the past I’d be concerned the Bucs would find ways to blow games should win but this is not the same team. Not the same defense for sure and not the same unbalanced team on offense. It will take some more wins before media says much positive and that’s fine with… Read more »